We have huge respect for tree surgeons. It's a tough job which requires more working at height than almost any other job we can think of (with the exception of high-rise window cleaners). Tree surgeons work, come rain or shine, and they're often solely responsible for their own safety. If you're not familiar with tree surgery you'd be forgiven for thinking that ladders are the standard way of accessing trees that need trimming. While ladders are used for carrying out mid-level surgery, more often than not ropes are used to access the specific, or high up branches that need to be trimmed.
The advantage of a rope system over ladders is that a harness and fall arrest system is part and parcel of the equipment, so safety is built in. There's no danger of becoming stranded if a ladder falls to the ground, as the ropes provide an easy descent. There's also no issue with leaning a ladder against a limb that's being worked on, leading to the ladder falling or worse, being flung into the air as the weight of the limb goes down with each cut.
This safety aspect was overlooked by a have-a-go tree surgeon in the USA, who was pictured making some incredibly dangerous choices. Aiming to trim a large branch that was very high up, the man had decided to give his ladder some extra height by balancing it on the sloping roof of a nearby building. We cannot emphasise enough how dangerous this is – a ladder should only ever be placed on a firm and secure surface and never on anything else, whether that's a nearby roof, a vehicle or even an architectural feature.
Not content with endangering his life in one way, the would-be tree surgeon rested the top of the ladder against the very branch he was intended to cut, leaving the ladder unstable at both the base and the top. When he starts trimming back the branch, it will become lighter and move upwards, causing the ladder to slide off its insecure footing. We don't know the outcome of this endeavour, but if it didn't end in a visit to the hospital we would be amazed.
Another amateur tree surgeon in Sandbach had to be rescued after he became trapped in the ladder he was using to take down a tall tree. Pictures of the scene show the top three-rung section of the ladder was bent over at 90° and some blue rope had been attached at the top stile, had been used to tie the ladder to the tree. We must commend this safety precaution, but it is unclear exactly how the accident happened apart from the fact that the man fell and became trapped in the ladder. He may have been performing a leg-lock (a fire-fighters' trick to leave both hands free) when he fell, which would result in him becoming ensnared in the ladder, and would explain the severe bend in the equipment.
In the wrong hands, ladders and trees are a recipe for disaster. Now, we're not saying that anyone wanting to do a bit of light tree surgery should use ropes instead – this method requires much more training than is required to use a ladder and should only be done by the experienced (and insured). Tree surgery is one of those jobs that seems simple on paper, but which is often best left to the experts.